Major League Ready: Meet David Peterson, Oregon’s projected first-round draft pick
It was shaping up to be a decision that many high school baseball players could only dream of: Go to college, or go to the pros?
For Oregon pitcher David Peterson, it was a decision he was ready to make.
Peterson entered his senior year at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado, committed to play baseball for the University of Oregon. His incredible success prior to his senior year, though, had caught the full attention of Major League Baseball scouts.
That potential decision and Peterson’s career as a whole, however, took on great uncertainty when the 6’6”, 230-pound ace broke his leg playing pick-up basketball prior to the start of the Raiders’ 2014 season.
“I remember getting that phone call from the hospital,” said Matt Darr, Peterson’s head coach at Regis Jesuit. “I could tell he was probably fighting back tears. … He was discouraged.”
It was an unexpected turn for Peterson but not one that would derail him. Today, Peterson is in the midst of a breakout season atop the Ducks’ starting pitching rotation that has put him in position to be a high-round draft pick in the upcoming MLB draft in June. He’s set the school record for strikeouts and currently leads the conference in strikeouts.
It’s been an up-and-down 2017 season for the Ducks (27-24, 11-16 Pac-12), who sit in eighth place in conference standings and are expected to miss the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year, but Peterson has exploded onto the national scene and has been nothing short of excellent.
“Everything you do, you need to have the most focus that you can. It translates to the mound,” said Peterson. “The work that I put in, and all the other pitchers are putting in, pays off when you stick to the process, keep your nose to the grind and get after your job.”
Peterson made an impact the moment he arrived at Regis Jesuit, being named first-team All-League as a freshman. For most of his senior season, however, all he could do was offer his support from off the diamond, uncertain whether his broken leg would heal quickly enough for him to return to the field.
“He was still the same leader even though he wasn’t out on the field,” Darr said. “We didn’t think he was going to come back.”
They were wrong. Not only did Peterson return from his injury in just a month and a half, but he shined, going 3-0 with a 1.15 ERA in 24 1/3 innings pitched. In his final start in a Raiders uniform, Peterson threw 7 innings, allowing no earned runs and struck out 10.
This season, the pitcher from Denver, Colorado, is 11-3 with a 2.31 ERA. His 131 strikeouts and counting are a program record for a season, blowing away the previous mark of 114 set in 2011 by Tyler Anderson. The two-time Pac-12 pitcher of the week is one win away from tying the program record for most wins in a season.
Peterson has also gained attention on the national stage. In addition to being named National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association pitcher of the week, he is a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and on the Golden Spikes Award watch list — awards given to the country’s top college baseball player.
“When you have a guy like [Peterson] who’s been able to do it consistently all year, it’s unbelievable,” Oregon catcher Tim Susnara said.
Peterson hasn’t been this level of “unbelievable” throughout his entire career, most notably with his pitch command. His 13 walks issued this season is a steady drop from the 31 and 30 batters he walked in his freshman and sophomore years, respectively. Decreased walk totals and a spike in the strikeout column have turned Peterson into one of the toughest pitchers to hit throughout the 2017 campaign.
“I go in every start the same way,” Peterson said. “It’s me versus the other guy. Keep them nameless and faceless and don’t put extra pressure on myself.”
On and off the field, Peterson is the guy that others follow. Matt Mercer, the Ducks’ Saturday night starter in the pitching rotation, praises Peterson’s mental strength and said he is one of the team’s “most vocal leaders.” Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and former Duck Cole Irvin, recalls one of the first times he interacted with Peterson.
“I remember having a team hangout, and he was the first guy to jump in [the pool] out of all the guys that were trying to lead the crew,” said Irvin. “He’s just fun and a great guy to be around.”
Out of all of Peterson’s quality starts this season, his 20-strikeout performance in the Ducks’ 2-0 win versus Arizona State on April 28 takes the crown. Not only did it give the Ducks a series-opening win in Pac-12 play, but Peterson’s performance drew national attention from media outlets and MLB scouts.
“He was in the zone when he wanted to be, and out of the zone when he wanted to be,” said Ducks head coach George Horton following the game. “That’s what it looks like when [star MLB pitchers Clayton] Kershaw or [Madison] Bumgarner pitch.
“That’s big league stuff.”
Once a projected high-round draft pick, Peterson fell to a 28th-round selection by the Boston Red Sox in the 2014 draft. He turned it down to come to Oregon, and through three seasons in Eugene, Peterson’s draft stock is higher than it has ever been. Baseball America has Peterson as the No. 16 overall draft prospect, with multiple mock drafts having the lefty taken in the first round of the 2017 MLB draft.
“Peterson is a big kid with a large frame. He has really come into his own this spring,” said an American League scout, who asked to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of his team. “He can run the fastball up to 94 MPH with good life. Both the slider and the curveball have come on this season. He should go high in the draft.”
Although people outside the program may have known about Peterson prior to the season, few expected such a meteoric rise. Last season, MLB scouts kept their eyes on Irvin and Matt Krook, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 draft by the San Francisco Giants. This year, they are flocking to PK Park to get a live look at Peterson.
“I take it as a responsibility to be the Friday guy,” said Peterson. “I’m very thankful for [the honors] … at the same time I can always get better. With the momentum I have right now, I just have to keep it going.”
Those in the dugout, however, including Irvin, knew that “Petey” was a special talent who can take his game to the next level.
“To be honest, I think he was overlooked [last season],” Irvin said. “He deserves to be talked about as being [drafted] in the first round.”
Peterson will square off against another projected first-round MLB Draft pick, UCLA starting pitcher Griffin Canning, at 6 p.m. Thursday at PK Park. Oregon baseball’s last two home games are on Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
Follow Cole Kundich on Twitter @ckundich
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